The Building Of A Professional New Army: The Contributions Of Gen. SurajAlao Abdurrahman

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Whenever the history of the new Armed forces of Liberia (AFL) is written or reference is made about contributions made by individuals that culminated in the completion of the formation of the new army, one person whose name would be remembered is that of Gen. SurajAlao Abdurrahman, who headed the restructuring process or formation, exercises for eight years, as its Command Officer-In-Charge (COIC).

Though he has gone to the great beyond, his footprints remain on the sand of time, something for which the Liberian Government through the Ministry of National Defense will this Friday, (August 21) hold a memorial program at the Monrovia City and later at the Camp Sandee Ware in Careysburg, Montserrado County.

The restructuring of the army was a result of the Comprehensive Peace agreement (CPA) reached in Accra, Ghana in August 2003 by former warring factions, political parties and civil society after years of insurrection in Liberia during the regime of former President Charles Taylor, who had to resign to give way to an interim government. At that marathon and painstaking peace talks, it was agreed that the Liberian army had been de-professionalized because of its role in the civil conflict, and as such, there was a need to restructure the army to face a different face, acceptable to the Liberian people.

On security sector reform, as contained in Article VII of the agreement, the parties agreed that: all irregular forces shall be disbanded; the Armed Forces of Liberia shall be restructured and will have a new command structure.

The parties said the following principles shall be taken into account in the formation of the restructured Liberian Armed Forces: Incoming service personnel shall be screened with respect to educational, professional, medical and fitness qualifications as well as prior history with regard to human rights abuses and the restructured force shall take into account the country’s national balance and that the Armed Forces shall be composed without any political bias to ensure that it represents the national character of Liberia.

Furthermore, the parties said the new Armed Forces’ mission shall be to defend the national sovereignty and in extremis, respond to natural disasters and that all parties shall cooperate with ECOWAS, the UN, the AU, the ICGL and the United States of America in this endeavor.

Although the late General did not start the process of the restructuring of the new army, he took over from Lt Luka Yusuf, (who predeceased him) who pioneered the exercise from 2006 to 2007, the coming in of Major Gen. Abdurrahman at a crucial time in this endeavor of giving Liberia a professional army that would command the respect and admiration of the Liberian people who had lost confidence in the former army because of its role during the civil upheaval.

A Defense Ministry journal reported that on December 19, 2008, under the stewardship of Major General Abdurrahman, three post-war companies: Alpha,Bravo, and Charlie consulting the establishment of the 23rd infantry Brigade of the restructured AFL were activated. Also, two other vital components, including the Liberian Coast Guard Unit and Engineering Company were activated under Major General Abdurrahman.

The journal also reported that In lieu of the Major General’s excellent leadership role, in December 2010, the AFL became fully operationalized after turning over 2000 plus personnel of the AFL to the Liberian Government by the Government and people of the United States of America through DynCorp International and PAE who were hired by the US Government to train the personnel of the new AFL.

Additionally, his tenure saw the high level of professionalizing the army by making use of advanced military and other training for officers. They attended mandatory military career courses notably Platoon and Company Commanders Courses, Junior and Senior Division Staff Officers Courses and the Strategic Level or War College Courses. The journal said the officers have also been exposed to various seminars and short courses that broadened their capacity to understand the effects of nonmilitary dynamics in military affairs.

The General also used his tenure to take advantage of every opportunity by spreading the command and staff appointments to sharpen their administrative and command skills. Being fully aware that the country lacks training schools, the General subscribed to the best military schools in the United States, China, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Sierra Leone for the training of officers. Through the efforts of the General, the new AFL received several foreign scholarships ranging from short-term framings to master degrees and, undisputedly, this initiative has enhanced the professional and operational capacities of the personnel of the AFL as a ‘Force for good’ and a military organization that has become ‘citizens’ soldiers’.

Indeed, today, we can all vaingloriously brag that the country has a professional army. Its recent peacekeeping role in Mali also bespeaks of this level of professionalism. They performed well and have now changed the face of the army those days of the conflict. Locally, the behavior of the military and its role, as it relates to civil works, have now sent a signal to the people of this country that never again, the military would be referred to as NOKOs.

As we remember this great army General, one thing we need to do for his soul to rest in perpetual peace and happiness is for us to keep the army as a professional body, especially so as it relates to the recruitment of individuals for the army. Too much have been spent and too much efforts have been put into this restructuring exercise; more importantly, the late Gen. SurajAlao Abdurrahman, with ingenuity, put in too much to building this professional army. Therefore, political leaders and those responsible for this should always censure that the army remains a professional body admired by the people.

I recalled during one of the events that preceded the observance of the Armed Forces Day at the Monrovia City Hall when I served as one of the panelists; I pointed out that one of the reasons why the former army became unprofessional was based on the recruitment process, as unqualified relatives, kinsmen and miscreants and deviants were recruited for political reasons.

And so if we revert to the ugly past when the army was sarcastically or mockingly referred to as ”NOKOs,” a local term or parlance which means idiots, illiterates or an uneducated person, the soul of this fallen general will NEVER REST IN PEACE, NEITHER TO TALK ABOUT PERPETUAL PEACE. As such, let the Army remain professional.

To achieve this means following the rule of recruitment. This is why I was happy recently when the Ministry of National Defense announced the continuation of the recruiting exercise, in accordance with what the General and others initiated by seeking public information for recruits whose photos have been placed in public places.

Indeed, this is commendable because one of the problems with the past had been the recruiting process of men and women into the military. The ball is now in the court of the leadership of the new army, with Liberian leadership headed by B/Gen. David D. Ziankahn, and the Ministry of Defense to ensure continuous compliance.

Let me close this postmortem by leaving these words of the keynote speaker of the 57th anniversary of Armed Forces Day, Governance Commission Chair, Dr. Amos Sawyer who said, “As we build post-war Liberia, our military’s role should promote unity and reflect Liberian values. Our military’s role should transcend the standard and conventional role. It must promote our unity, reflect the values we subscribe to, the vision we have focused and national reconciliation we are forging. Our military must be a servant and remain a servant of the people and partners of other institutions of governance in accelerating the implementation of our national development programs.”

May the soul of this great General rest in peace and that Allah will grant him peace, as I rest on this encomium.